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I’m a freelancer and so is my husband — here’s how I spend my money


My husband and I are freelancers: I’m a 52-year-old writer, editor, and proofreader; Mark is a 62-year-old illustrator and writer. We had a financially stable life — a paid-for house, gym memberships, enough income to pay our bills — in Portland, Oregon. But the Rose City is being loved to death. Tens of thousands of people a year are being drawn there by the nice climate, the foodie culture, the great music, the Portlandia vibe. The city we knew is vanishing. Escalating crime, gridlock, road rage and constant construction left us feeling embattled in our own house.

Happily, working at home for remote clients means we can live anywhere that has a decent internet connection. So, two years ago, we followed a long-standing dream and bought a lovely house with five acres (and a pond!) on Orcas Island, Washington. This meant a small mortgage, and because our income is unpredictable, we immediately put enough of our Portland house proceeds into a savings account to cover our first three years of payments.

Our “typical” monthly “budget” is always difficult to define. Working at home for dozens of clients means no two days — or jobs — are alike. Work floods in all at once, or not at all for months. So both income and expenditures are wildly unpredictable. Last year we grossed only $41,000 — that’s not a typo. This year, we had surpassed that by the end of June, and are now on target for around $80,000.

Unless something unexpected happens! ( Insert evil laughter from offstage.)

Speaking of which, this year we’ve had a few medical issues, and are already out of pocket $4,000 not covered by our health insurance. Then Mark’s main computer died, and his backup computer, and then his Cyntiq drawing computer. Then a printer — all within three months. And then we got our tax bill.

Hoping to shield ourselves from some of this chaos, we became an S Corporation in May, incurring lawyer and accountant fees — planned expenses, for once. We’re hoping this will help with our taxes next year. Fingers crossed.

Our “average” monthly spending looks like this:

  • Mortgage (principal, interest, escrow for property taxes & home insurance): $1,737
  • Business expenses: $1,575
  • Income & self-employment taxes: $1,090
  • Groceries: $800
  • Travel/entertainment/dining out/clothing/gym/books/gifts/charity/haircuts/household necessities/etc.: $700
  • Medical: $575
  • Utilities (including firewood, our sole winter heat): $430
  • Insurance (auto, life, umbrella, medical, emergency airlift): $385
  • Garden: $220
  • Legal & accounting fees: $200
  • Auto (gas, maintenance, ferry fees): $120

Total $7,832

With our projected average income of $6,667/month, you can see that these numbers don’t exactly pencil out.

Fortunately, we do have two years of mortgage money left in that savings account. But we’re barely treading water here. And the Pacific Northwest is expensive; island living is costlier still. Gas is $4 a gallon here; asparagus can be $9 a pound. Ferry fees are $56.55 per car.

Choosing adventurous living over the path of least resistance is challenging. Here’s what we spent during a recent week, July 24 to July 30.



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